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With India’s Cruel Milk Industry, Do We Really Need Milk Regularly?

India’s economy is greatly impacted by the dairy business, milk itself makes up the largest selling product of the country. The geographically expansive market for dairy products is always hustling with buyers and sellers, a feature that makes entry and exit from the market easy for small scale businesses and migrant workers. Only about a tenth of the market comes under the organised sector. Mostly based in the rural and peripheral areas of the city, dairy farmers are a big chunk of the working demand-supply chain in the market.

In this scenario, a shift of lens to the process of milk harvesting is a telling story in itself. The industry has not been under serious question due to many reasons, of which, three are most pressing — the most effective tool being rigged studies, funded by the ones running businesses, then comes the normalisation of animal torture, aligned with clever marketing that hides the real face of what goes inside the milking industry. This is further topped with consumer ignorance and religious beliefs surrounding milk and its related products in the country.

The Process Of Milk Production   

Cows, like any other mammal, produce milk for their infants. Being extremely maternal animals, they go through 300 days of pregnancy. New-born calves are weak at birth and require proper nourishment from their mother’s milk. Sadly, this does not work well for the farmers and the milk is extracted and sold off in the market before the calf can have it. Instead, diluted nectar and sometimes, its medicinal alternative is fed to the calves, who remain in poor health for a very long time. Male calves are segregated from female ones after a few months. Male calves are sold off to slaughterhouses for their flesh, while female calves are pushed to the cycle of childbearing and lactation.

two cows sitting in a shed
Due to bad health and weakness, as well as to increase milk bearing capacities, these animals are injected with medicines that are harmful to both the animal and the consumer of milk.

This would seem obvious to anyone who has have ever thought about where milk comes from. But here’s the darker picture. The cows owned in most of the sheds across India are fed improperly and they barely get to move throughout their lives. They are kept hooked to their spots, where they are fed and milked, without substantial movement, making the cattle unhealthy and weak. Calves are deprived of their mother’s milk, which is an essential element for any infants’ healthy growth.

Due to bad health and weakness, as well as to increase milk bearing capacities, these animals are injected with medicines that are harmful to both the animal and the consumer of milk. The process of natural impregnation is difficult and time taking, and to get the cows pregnant again right after delivering, injections are given. This reduces the ‘non-productive’ period and greatly increases milk production. This gruesome process severely impacts the cattle both mentally and physically. Their bodies are weak and tired, and the mental trauma of separation from their calves is a lifelong pain they have to endure.

The calves create an economy of their own. Male are fed poorly and later sold off at cheap rates for their meat to slaughterhouses. Separated from their mothers soon after birth, they are kept in terrible conditions in the slaughterhouses. These calves do not see many days. Most of the meat produced in India is exported to foreign countries. India ranks amongst the world’s biggest beef exporters. The female calves are injected to grow faster and are soon medicinally impregnated, continuing the cycle.

Cattle owners in the informal sector are poor and technologically backward, depending solely on manual labour and market demand. On the other hand, big farms are better off in terms of milk processing and preservation. However, the life of the Sisyphean cattle remains the same. The industry sustains on unethical, unsustainable and cruel grounds. The dairy industry thrives on animal torture and a cycle of systemic cruelty.

What does this leave us with? Probably a shift to vegan alternatives may help. However, almond and soy milk are expensive and aren’t easily affordable for everyday use, nor are they as easily available as cow or buffalo milk. Recent studies are drawing some worrisome links between regular milk consumption and cancer, diabetes, reduces bone density and so on. Perhaps, this leaves us speculating whether regular consumption of milk is even necessary. Additionally, exploring plant-based options may actually offer better alternatives in the longer run.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

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With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Find out more about the campaign here.

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Read more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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